First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Upper Hambleton stood high and handsome on its green ridge this autumn morning, its rosy stone houses glowing in clear sunshine under a china blue sky. It was the village’s hilltop position that saved it when the Gwash Valley was flooded in the 1970s to create the giant man-made lake of Rutland Water.
Ever-expanding Peterborough’s thirst for fresh water saw the villages of Middle and Nether Hambleton drowned beneath the reservoir’s rising waters, but their elevated neighbour escaped the tide. Now Upper Hambleton sits in solo splendour across the neck of a long peninsula extending into the great sheet of water that lies at the heart of Britain’s smallest county.
We found a pathway down to the water’s edge below the village, and followed a gravel-surfaced shared access track (cyclists and pedestrians, a sometimes uneasy mix) along the northern shore of this peninsula. The far shore, a smother of trees, was splashed beautifully in scarlet, gold and green.
Rutland Water is famous for the number and variety of birds that spend the winter here. We watched great crested grebe ducking and diving in the steel-blue water. A flight of tufted duck, a couple of hundred strong, went beating across the lake in black-and-white flickers. Chestnut-headed pochard coasted close to the shore, and a little further out bobbed a group of goldeneye with glossy green heads and brilliant gold eyes. Everyday birds made marvellous by the power of binoculars and the clarity of so much autumn light over such vast stretches of water.
The track wound along the lake shore through the skirts of Armley Wood, where ash, oak and hazel leaves filtered the sunlight into translucent shards of lime and lemon. ‘Just coming up behind you… slowly,’ came the quiet voice of a cyclist – a thoughtful warning, less jarring than a bicycle bell. Beyond the wood the path rose among fields all a-clatter with a tractor and harvester reaping a crop of maize.
The Hambleton peninsula is great family day out territory. A bunch of children went squealing and skittering by. ‘I’ve got a wobbly tooth,’ confided one lad. ‘And I’m seven already!’
At the tip of the peninsula we turned back along the south shore, looking across to Edith Weston’s spire. Pairs of teenagers were scudding about in sailing dinghies, chivvied by instructors yelling from a rubber boat. On an isolated ness stood the Jacobean mansion of Old Hall, gabled and mullioned, sole survivor of the two drowned villages, marooned on the shore beside the water that swallowed them.
Start: Finch’s Arms PH, Upper Hambleton, Rutland, LE15 8TL (OS ref SK 900076)
Getting there: Road – from A6003 roundabout just east of Oakham, follow A606 (‘North Rutland Water’). In ½ mile, right to Upper Hambleton.
Walk (5 miles, easy, OS Explorer 234. Online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Finch’s Arms, left along village street. In 150, opposite pillar box, left down drive (fingerpost) to lake shore. Right along shared access trail, clockwise round peninsula. In 4½ miles, pass driveway to Old Hall (899071); in another 500m, right over stile (895075, yellow arrow). Up field to top corner (898076); cross successive stiles; narrow fenced path to Upper Hambleton.
NB: The shared access track is very popular with cyclists at weekends, so keep your eyes and ears peeled!
Lunch/Accommodation: Finch’s Arms, Upper Hambleton (01572-756575, finchsarms.co.uk) – smart and comfortable.
Birdwatching: Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre, Egleton, Oakham LE15 8BT (01572-770651, rutlandwater.org.uk)